Antonio awakes on the first day of school feeling sick with fear. It is the first time he will leave his mother's protection. He is excited and sad. He hears his mother cooking and his father groaning about another day. He complains about Antonio's schooling being another expense. He and María argue over having bought land on the llano. She tells him of the Lunas being the first colonizers of the Llano Estacado. She runs Gabriel out of the house when he sneers at them for being led by a priest. Antonio hears his sisters getting up and he hears Ultima entering the kitchen. Antonio gets dressed and puts on his school shoes, a strange feeling since he has been going barefoot for almost seven years.
When he comes downstairs his mother praises him as her man of learning. María weeps at the thought of him leaving. Ultima tells her sons must leave their mothers. María serves Antonio first. Antonio remembers Jasón telling him about the letters he will learn in school. Jasón has told him the letters are magic. María tells him not to dishonor the family name. Gabriel wants to know what good an education does them when he hears Deborah saying, "Gosh, okay." He says they are learning to speak like Indians. María recalls Ultima offering Antonio all the objects of life when he was born and he chose the pen and paper.
Gabriel says when he was growing up only the rich children were given an education. His father gave him a saddle blanket and a wild horse when he was ten years old. He had pointed at the llano and said "that is your life." The llano was Gabriel's school, his teacher, and his first love. He recalls the years as beautiful ones when the land was still "virgin." However, the Tejanos soon came and built fences, then the railroad and the roads came "like a bad wave of ocean covering all that was good." Finally, Gabriel gives Antonio a blessing and makes him feel good, "like a man."
Before the children leave for school, María asks Ultima to bless them. They all kneel in front of her and María tells her to bless Antonio especially. Ultima names the Trinity, the father, son, and holy ghost. Antonio feels a great force as he feels Ultima rest her hand on his head. It feels like a whirlwind. He looks up frightened, but Ultima calms him. Dust devils are common on the llano in summer. They carry evil and it is bad luck to be touched by one of them. However, it is easy to make a dust devil change its path. "The power of God is great." To move one, a person need only lift the right hand and cross the right thumb over the first finger in the form of a cross. The dust must turn away because evil cannot challenge the cross. One time Antonio purposefully did not make the sign of the cross and challenged the wind. The whirlwind knocked him off his feet. The wind seemed to call his name. He felt "its evil was left imprinted on" his soul. Antonio is roused from his thoughts by his mother calling his name. Antonio is confused that Ultima's blessing feels like the evil whirlwind.
He gets to his feet. María asks Ultima to tell her Antonio's destiny. Ultima reluctantly tells her that Antonio will be a man of learning. Antonio looks at his father, mother and Ultima and feels as though he is seeing them for the last time. He runs toward school. At a juniper tree he sees Ultima's owl and hears its call. He races toward the bridge. When he gets halfway across, he hears Vitamin Kid challenging him to a race. He takes up the challenge and is beaten. No one has ever beaten Vitamin Kid in a race. No one knows anything about Vitamin Kid, his real name or where he lives.
When Antonio reaches the school, he is amazed to see so many children. He is lost until a red-haired boy shows him to his first grade class. He misses his mother terribly but he puts that thought away because he knows he is expected to become a man. He meets Miss Maestas, his teacher. When he tells her his name is Antonio Márez, she repeats it back as Anthony Márez. Antonio is fascinated by the letters she writes. She puts him to work copying his name over and over. At noon, Antonio can write. Miss Maestas takes him to the front of the room and speaks in English to the other children. Antonio does not understand her. The other children laugh and point at him. He feels bad. After that, Antonio stays away from groups and works alone.
At noon the children open their lunches to eat. Antonio's mother has
packed a jar of hot beans an some green chile wrapped in tortillas. The
other children laugh at his lunch. They show him their sandwiches. Again,
he feels bad. He takes his lunch out of the room where he tries to eat
against the wall in back of the school. He cannot eat because he wants
to cry. He wants his mother. He is also mad at her for sending him to
a place where he is an outcast. He feels very sad. He feels "la tristesa
de la vida" (the sadness of life). He knows he cannot run because
he would bring shame on his family's name. Then he realizes he is not
alone. He sees two other boys, George and Willy, whom he knows from the
farms of Delia. They band together and find strength. The find a few other
students like them, whose customs and language make them different. When
winter comes, they move their lunch group to the auditorium. They all
Chapter 6 begins the story of Antonio's school experience. He has feared it from the beginning of the novel. He describes the loneliness a second-language learner feels from the isolation of using a different language and different customs from the norm. He describes the comfort the Mexican-American children gain from being with one another. Yet, that comfort still does not take away the pain of loneliness. Each child has to endure it and overcome it.
Miss Maestas (her name means teacher) seems to be a kind teacher, but unable to understand the point of view of a child who cannot speak English. The novel does not tell us what the other children were laughing about when Miss Maestas took Antonio in front of them because we are limited to Antonio's point of view. Therefore, the reader experiences the same kind of confusion he does. Antonio does not remark on it, but as soon as his name is entered into the grade book, it is converted from Spanish to English, Antonio to Anthony. This act describes one step in the process of assimilation that would erase Antonio's rich cultural heritage.
There is a great deal of talk in his family about Antonio being a man. For a seven year old boy, it seems odd that the adults in his life place manhood as a goal he should strive for even in the present. Antonio measures his choices against that goal. When he feels humiliated at school and wants to run, he is held back in part because he knows he must be a man. Anaya demonstrates the ways a boy is brought into conformity with the gender roles of his culture. In Antonio's case, being a man means standing one's ground and not running. It also means being the center of attention. His mother spends her life dreaming of his future, while his sisters' futures seem to be a matter of worry only to the extent that they have good manners.
Antonio describes a folk belief about the way to stop evil which will come
into play in the novel later. The person who is threatened by the evil
of the dust devil should make the sign of the cross and no evil can cross
it. Antonio is confused by the paranormal powers of good and evil. He
has heard and experienced the powers of evil, and when Ultima exerts power,
he has to learn the difference that comes from power exerted by the forces
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